Slow-Wheeling to the Sea – The New York Times


“People will look,” warned Minna Caroline Smith in Lapham’s Quarterly about her pioneering tricycling touring of the coastal North Shore in jap Massachusetts. It wasn’t simply that the self-powered grownup tricycles have been novel, however so, too, have been the girls driving them. It was 1885.

The gender shock could now be gone however as the solely particular person steering a tricycle on the identical roads a century plus later, I knew precisely what the incisive Smith meant. My weekend journey comfort, a low-driving recumbent trike powered by palms as an alternative of ft, was arguably much more consideration-getting. This was a primary attempt at adaptive bike touring. After a lifetime of driving round the world, I used to be altering to a hand cycle after backbone most cancers and a complication that left my legs partially paralyzed.

Boston’s North Shore has always been a premier cycling destination. “In and Around Cape Ann,” a popular wheelman’s guidebook published in the 1880s, lauded the views from the largely well-tended and graded dirt lanes. In 1898, in the heyday of the pre-car bike riding mania, a Boston newspaper printed a lavishly illustrated map of our bike touring route, devoting hand-drawn individual panels to snapshots of bridges, churches, elm tree-shaded gateways and signature offshore views.

Large oak and birch trees, as expected, lined the path; not expected were shallow-rooted Norway maples splintered across it, the result of a recent nor’easter. Over the eight miles of the Bike-to-Sea path between Malden and Lynn’s winding seaside boulevard there were at least a half dozen trees down, precipitating all types of inventive bypasses: under, over and basically through the roughage.

My low rider, not necessarily viewed as a versatile all-terrain machine because the seat bottom is mere inches from the ground, was actually so low I could roll beneath splintered tree limbs. Where it couldn’t, I accepted a nudge, or even in the case of a then-crumbling Saugus River footbridge, a brief portage. I wasn’t demoralized — I needed help. It was an all-for-one, one-for-all group adventure.

My father, Oliver Balf, was one of the numerous New York City artists who came to Cape Ann in the 1940s. Like many others he came for the summers and stayed for good. I am pretty sure as a young man his eye was drawn to the same en plein-air backdrops we saw throughout the weekend: the working fishing boats chugging about pocket harbors, low banks of starchy offshore clouds against a wide, cold-water blue sky.

On the second day, we cycled the long route between Beverly Farms and Gloucester, detouring off Route 127 onto Ocean Street and Shore Road, each stunning spur routes to ocean views. We came across a sign, etched in granite, that read, WOE TIDES and a weatherworn wooden arrow above a stone for “Old Salem Path.” On one attempt to take a shortcut back to the main road, we bypassed Thunderbolt Hill, a steeply curving, granite-lined drive near Singing Beach in Manchester where James Fields, the founder of The Atlantic Monthly, once entertained Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Touring with a hand trike, two big wheels behind me and a third centered in front, was surprisingly great. I was sitting, of course, able to relax and leisurely take in the passing countryside. But I was thrillingly entertained on downhills, leaning like a slalom skier to carve corners at speed. The pedal power from my upper body was steady and dependable, and as the tour continued, though I knew I looked different, I didn’t feel different. Trikes and e-bikes help level the playing field. More inclusive tours, and a greater variety of them, are likely to follow. But it was also good to know you can set off with old cycling friends, one of whom saw fit to ride all weekend in a period tweed vest, tie and collared shirt.

Minna Caroline Smith had initially planned for their trip to end in Magnolia, but a deepening craving for Gloucester clams brought her another four miles to a hotel near Pavilion Beach. We figured the trip would end in downtown Gloucester, too, but after a perfect fried fish and chowder lunch at the Causeway Restaurant, a noontime local favorite, we went farther, 12 miles in all, keen to round Cape Ann and thoroughly use up the day.


Todd Balf is the author of several nonfiction books and most recently, a memoir about his disability journey called Complications.


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